LARRY VETTEL: Appreciating David Lee

I don't cheer at sporting events. I don't applaud except for the national anthem. I maintain my professional distance from the emotions of the game so to ensure my judgment is not impaired. <p> Most of the time.

I cheered at both Final Fours and I cheered in New Orleans at the end of the 1996 season. And I cheer on senior day. Not every senior day, but the ones that bring to a close a career of note and a person who I have come to know, like and respect.

So Sunday, in front of a record crowd in the O'Connell Center, there I was standing and applauding as number 24 David Lee took his well-deserved bows prior to the game with Kentucky.

Impressive Numbers

Lee is one of just nine Gators to score over 1300 points and grab more than 800 rebounds. Add in 200-plus assists and over 100 blocked shots and only Lee and Dwayne Schintzius reached all four milestones. He has made over fifty percent of his field goal attempts each of his four years and will finish in the top five in school history in field goal percentage.

For a front court player, a double-double (points and rebounds) is the benchmark and it is in this area where Lee's senior year improvement is most remarkable. After totaling ten double-doubles in his first three years, Lee has notched ELEVEN this year, nine in SEC play and four in a row. His 21 career double-doubles puts him in the UF top ten in that category as well.

And there's one more stat that matters more than all the others. The Florida Gators are 87-35 (.713) in David Lee's four seasons in Gainesville with a 43-21 mark in SEC action.

David Lee has been a productive player, a first-class kid, a solid student and a winner. That in itself, is a fab four of attributes.

Meeting Expectations?

With all the success and improvement David has made over the past four years, there are some who feel he has not lived up to expectations. Well, I suppose some expectations were for Lee to be a 20-and-10 guy throughout his career and perhaps be an All-American. That didn't happen.

Lee came to Gainesville as a McDonald's All-American and wowed Florida fans by winning the slam dunk contest at that event. A 6-9 forward with excellent athleticism with the ability to use either hand set Lee up to be a standout on the college level, and that HAS happened.

One thing which limited Lee's productivity the previous two seasons was the absence of another large body to bang inside and relieve some of the pressure. While Lee had Udonis Haslem on for his first season, he was pretty much alone in the paint as a sophomore and junior. One reason while this year has seen Lee surge to averaging a double-double in SEC play is the presence of freshman Al Horford.

Had Horford been Lee's teammate the past two years Lee would have been fare more productive. Of course, had that happened, Lee might have been a first round draft pick last year and his senior year would never have happened.

Seeking Post-Season Success

Now the only gap on David Lee's collegiate resume' is post-season success. Florida made a nice run in the SEC Tournament last year, but that's not what college hoops is all about. It's about March madness. It's about "The Big Dance." In his three years as a Gator David Lee has seen his team win 87 times, but only once in four NCAA Tournament games.

Not that it was always his fault. Lee had 9 points and 8 rebounds off the bench in the loss to Creighton his freshman year. As a sophomore he had a 23/6 effort against Sam Houston State and led the Gators with 16 in the loss to Michigan State. Last year was Lee's worst NCAA performance as he managed just 7 points and 5 boards against a smaller Manhattan unit.

David has told me many times his only real goal this year is for the Gators to have NCAA Tournament success. Florida's win over Kentucky should be enough to propel the Gators up to a number 6 seed which enhances Florida's chances. If the Gators make it to the second round, they could face a team ranked somewhere in the 9-12 range for a spot in the Sweet 16. That's the place where David Lee sees his career reaching. He'll pursue that goal in about a week and a half.

A Place In History

David Lee should be remembered as one of the ten best big men to play at the University of Florida. He should be remembered as a guy who always played hard, who consistently improved throughout his career and never put personal goals ahead of team ones.

He should be remembered as a guy who put on 20-plus pounds in order to better bang in the paint and then took it off to regain his quickness and improve his late-game stamina. He should be remembered as a guy who gladly went to class, never had to be disciplined and made alums proud to see him in a Gator uniform.

If you made an All-Donovan team, you'd have a lot of guys to choose from over the past nine year. I'd probably go with Haslem, Bonner, Miller, Nelson and Roberson. If so, David Lee has to be the sixth man.

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